It was a hot, muggy June day. I had promised my six-year-old daughter, Sydney, that we would make chocolate chip cookies, but we had discovered that someone (hmmmm, I wonder who) had eaten all the chocolate chips. Off we went to buy more. As we were coming out of Up-Island Cronig's with our bag of goodies, we heard barking coming from one of the vehicles. Parked in the full sun a few spaces down, was a black Lexus SUV. The windows were all cracked less than an inch. Inside was a beagle. A hot beagle. "Whippersnapper!" I exclaimed. Okay, that's not really what I said, but this is being published in the paper, and I have a professional reputation to maintain. It was my day off and frankly, I didn't want to spend it dealing with other people's pets...but I couldn't just walk away. I glanced around, expecting to see someone hurrying back to the car. Surely no one would leave a dog for long in these circumstances. No one came. I scanned the people sitting on the porch. The SUV had out-of-state plates and I recognized all the folks eating sandwiches on the benches as locals. I pushed my fingers through the cracked window. It was hot inside but not yet deadly, and the pup was panting but not prostrate. I toyed with the idea of opening the door, but my naturally timid, law-abiding nature summoned up an image of the Lexus owners having me arrested for breaking and entering.
Listen up, people! Do not leave your dog in the car! Did everyone hear that? Let me say it again. Do not leave your dog in the car! It is summer time! It is hot! It is humid! Leave the dog home! I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here. Those of you who actually bother to read my column would never leave your dog in a hot car, would you? But not every case of heat stroke is the result of negligence. The first case I saw this season was a young Scottie. It wasn't even summer, just a warmish day in May. Scottie's owner had tied her out on the porch while she was mowing the lawn. The porch had shade. The dog had water. Luckily, the mower ran out of gas and when the owner walked back by the porch she noticed that Scottie was in distress. The dog arrived at my office on the verge of collapse with a temperature of over 106 F.
Dogs at risk
Certain characteristics can predispose an individual animal to heat stroke. Dogs with thick hair coats, like Newfoundlands or malamutes. Mother Nature designed these dogs for the chilly waters of the north Atlantic or for sleeping in snow...not for sitting in the car at the Vineyard Haven Post Office in August. Dogs with pushed-in noses, like bulldogs and pugs. Their smooshed-in upper airways are less efficient for releasing excess heat by panting. Fat dogs (you know who you are). Dogs with underlying heart or lung disease, especially those with laryngeal paralysis.
Laryngeal paralysis, nicknamed larpar, is a common syndrome in which the larynx stops functioning normally. The vocal chords do not retract properly during respiration, thus impairing air flow. There is a hereditary form reported in Bouvier des Flanders, Siberian huskies, and husky crosses that shows up in young dogs between the ages of four and eight months, but the most common type is acquired idiopathic larpar. This means it develops in adulthood, and we don't know exactly why. Giant and large breed dogs are particularly susceptible, including Newfoundlands, Labradors, and golden retrievers...all breeds we see a lot of here on the Vineyard. Signs usually develop between the ages of nine and 12 years but have been reported in dogs as young as two years. Males are more prone than females. What are the signs? When Larry, the larpar dog, gets hot, stressed, or overexerts himself, he develops stridor - noisy, gurgly, labored breathing, often with a high-pitched wheeze on inspiration. You might notice a change in the quality of his bark and a reluctance to exercise. He may gag, cough, retch, or vomit. In severe cases he may collapse or even die. Severe cases should be corrected surgically. Mild to moderate cases can be treated by keeping Larry cool and quiet, especially in hot, humid weather. No ball playing, no beach. No leaving him in the car. If his breathing seems labored, keep him inside, preferably with the AC on. If you don't have AC, a nice fan right on the floor blowing in his face is often helpful. Dogs with larpar are prone to aspiration pneumonia, as well as heat stroke.
Cool him off
Heat stroke is an emergency and can be quickly fatal. Symptoms are pretty obvious - panting, drooling, elevated heart rate, agitation, and bright red gums. If you take Larry's rectal temperature, which is normally 101 to 102.5 F, it may be 105 F or higher. He may develop seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, collapse, coma, and death. The goal of treatment is to bring his temperature down quickly, but not too quickly. Do not use ice to cool him off, as this can actually be counterproductive, constricting the peripheral blood vessels, which lessens heat loss, and even causing shivering which can increase the overall body temperature. Use cool water baths to bring his temperature down. Scottie's owners tried to hose him down before bringing him in on emergency but his coat was so thick that they never really got him wet down to the skin. To be effective, you need to soak him down to the skin. Concentrate on areas where the fur is sparse, like the belly, armpits, and groin. In severe cases, even if you drop the temperature back to normal, secondary complications can develop, including liver failure, kidney failure, swelling of the brain, clotting disorders, fluid in the lungs, muscle damage, and heart arrhythmias. Dogs at high risk for these complications need to be hospitalized and cared for by a veterinarian. The prognosis for heat stroke is directly related to the intensity and duration of the elevated temperature and how quickly and effectively they receive treatment.
Aha! A woman came out of the store with a cart overflowing with grocery bags and a young child in tow, heading for the Lexus. On one hand, I empathized with her as a busy mother of young children. On the other hand, it makes me crazy seeing animals being put at risk unnecessarily. I approached her hesitantly, identifying myself as a veterinarian and suggested that it was not a good idea to leave her dog in the car in this weather. She seemed unconcerned. I grew bolder.
"You wouldn't leave your child in the car in this heat, would you?" I asked. "If it was my child, I could leave the windows open," she replied. Wow, how do I respond to that? I'm really not trying to embarrass anyone, but if you are like this lady, and think it's okay to leave your pooch in the Lexus while shopping on a hot day, please, do me a favor. Go sit in a parked car in the sun at mid-day with the windows cracked less than an inch and see how it feels. I bet you will never subject your dog to this kind of risk again.